3 Monastic Practices that Will Improve Your Work Life
I’ve always loved monasteries: the silence, the peacefulness, the feeling of being “away” from the world. There’s something deeply satisfying about going on retreat to a monastery and being able to leave worries about work, home, studies, or plans of any kind, behind.
Stepping into a “sacred space” offers freedom from the daily stress of life.
When St. Benedict wrote his monastic “Rule” in the 6th century AD, he codified a way of living that would last through the centuries, down to current day. While most of us can’t retreat to a monastery on a regular basis, bringing the rhythm of monastic life into my own is something from which I’ve benefited greatly. It’s helped me to focus on clear priorities, reduce stress, and be more peaceful in general.
Here are three ways I’ve found we can integrate monastic practices into our work lives.
1. Embrace a guiding principle.
The Benedictine motto is “ora et labora”—pray and work. It’s a simple phrase that cuts to the heart of how most of us do—or would like to—spend our days. But sometimes the “work” part can outweigh everything else. We may have every good intention to pray, but fail to actually make it happen. Having it in a motto which guides our lives means we’re less likely to let it slide.
When we embrace this type of guiding principle—by either creating or borrowing one—it helps us to focus on what’s important. It allows us to articulate our “bottom line” in life: the things that matter most. I know several families who create their own motto and allow it to guide all of their decisions: how they spend their time, what work they pursue, how they use their money, etc. The motto can be put in a place of prominence, whether framed on the living room wall or on a note stuck to your computer monitor. Just having it somewhere where you see it all the time is key.
2. Add more “hard stops.”
Another monastic practice that offers a wonderful opportunity to help us step away from the frantic pace of life is having “hard stops” in the day. Monks live on a set schedule: when the bell rings, it’s time to pray. When it rings again, it’s time to work. Another set of peals indicates lunch time. The bells tell the monks to stop whatever they are doing, no matter how ‘important’ or interesting it may be. They stop work, even in the middle of a project, when it’s time to pray. They stop praying, even in the midst of a personal meditation, when it’s time to work.
How many of us end up coming home late for dinner because we just wanted to finish one more project at the office? Or end up late for work because we wanted 5 more minutes of sleep? It’s difficult to embrace “hard stops” in a world where our jobs often follow us around, even coming into bed with us at night as emails on our phone. Embracing firm boundaries around work is a life-giving practice that can help us reduce stress and live according to the priorities we’ve set for ourselves.
3. Make time for rest and play.
Most of us want to be less stressed: and while it’s great to “hustle” and “lean in”, it’s equally important to make time for rest. Sundays, in monastic life, are days of community celebration. All of the monks participate in “recreation”—some play music together, others engage in sports or games, and still others might enjoy reading for fun. Whatever they do, the idea is that it is a time for play—the opposite of work.
Men (and women) who devote their lives to “pray and work” have weekly fun time! Recreation is never skipped in favor of work on a Sunday. It’s as much a part of their life as the regular gardening, study, and prayer they engage in the other 6 days of the week. How many of us can say the same? Do we make “fun” a part of our weeks, allowing us to return to work truly refreshed? By guarding our time for rest as carefully as we guard our time for work, we’re living a more holistic, peaceful, human life.
If you ever have the chance to visit a monastery, I’d highly recommend it. But even if you don’t, it’s worth thinking about which elements of monasticism can help bring light and peace to your life and work.
Kerri Christopher is a life consultant. She helps individuals learn to discern well, discover their priorities, and make plans to move forward. From “what am I doing with my life?” to “why is my closet always a mess?,” she loves helping people sift through the tough questions by integrating the wisdom and truths of the Christian life with the best practices of human “self-help.” Kerri has both an MA and STL in theology and has taught at universities in the US and UK. With her British husband, she lives in London, where she enjoys discovering cozy pubs and beautiful architecture. You can find her online at Clarity Life Consulting.